A meteor shower is a pretty cool thing to see, so if you happen to have clear skies, a warm jacket, and a comfy lawn chair or thick blanket, you might want to get outside this evening and gaze upward. It’s nice if you can lie down and relax instead of straining your neck to look up for a long period of time. You won’t need binoculars or a telescope or anything fancy, just a sense of wonder that the earth is traveling through a debris field from an asteroid that used to be a comet. Here’s a link with more specific information from a blog on Discover Magazine.
The meteor shower will peak between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., Eastern U.S. Time, 1:00 and 2:00 Central, and should provide quite a show. There may be dozens of meteors per hour, whereas on any random evening, you might see one or maybe two. If any of them hit the ground, they’re then called meteorites, but this is exceedingly rare. Here’s a video to give you an idea of what a meteor shower is like. It’s a video of the Perseid Meteors, which will peak on August 12, 2012. I couldn’t find a good video of the Quadrantids. Maybe one of you will make one!
I’ll tell you another fun thing to do when you’re out skywatching in the evening, especially just after sunset, and that’s to look for satellites orbiting the earth. There are lots of places online to tell you where to look and when, and it really is pretty exciting to see one of them whizzing by. Lots of fun to see the International Space Station as well. It’s bigger than a satellite, of course, and pretty easy to spot, once you know what to look for in the night sky. The first time I saw it, it reminded me for all the world of a big truck with bright headlights flying overhead. I had called several friends that evening and told them when to go outside and where to look, and I got quite a few excited calls from them afterward. Pretty cool!
Here’s a link that provides tracking information on the International Space Station (ISS), Heavens’ Above. Also, The Celestial Observer has some very specific information about what objects will be flying over your head and when to look for them. Click on the “Satellites” link and be sure to read down to the section on Iridium Satellites.
Lots of people look for the so-called “Iridium Flares” when these particular satellites go by because they can produce a bright flash in the sky that is hard to miss.
Once you get into the section entitled, “When and Where,” you will need to click on the CalSky link. (I can’t give you the link. Read on.) The CalSky will magically give you a table for your specific area, so you can see where and when to look for these satellites. I’ve used the table a number of times myself. It’s very easy to use. I’d give you the specific CalSky link, but you don’t want to know when things will be flying over my house, you want to know when they’ll be flying over yours. Happy skywatching!